Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Queen of Sleepy Eye; Patti Hill

Author Patti Hill has written a flashback coming of age contemporary novel primarily set in a tiny town in Colorado back in the 1975. Amy and her mom Maria end up in Cordial Colorado after the transmission of their classic 1958 Pontiac Bonnieville dies. The ladies are relocating from Minnesota to California, where Amy has earned a scholarship to Westmont. The summer of 1975 turns out to be a fateful few months for both Amy and her mother. A time of growth and change.

Honestly, I found Maria hard going. I had an intense and visceral dislike of her character which made me reluctant to read The Queen of Sleepy Eye. I liked Amy and the people of Cordial, though, so I kept at it. And I’m glad I did, because, really, this book is about acceptance, making peace with yourself & your past, *ahem, looks into mirror* learning to be less judgemental, the enduring love of family. I remember my overly black and white view of people and the world when I was a teenager, I remember my viewpoint was similar Amy’s at a similar age.

I have struggled with what and how much to say about the plot because I prefer to leave much unsaid so that new readers have surprises waiting for them if they choose to buy or borrow this book. Maria was a teenage mother bringing up a daughter in a time when this was frowned upon much more than today. Amy is a teenager raised by a teenager. And Maria, unlike some young ladies come early to motherhood, Maria doesn’t grow up as much as the reader might hope for. Amy pays a price for her mother’s narcissism and immaturity and scheming. There are moments of insight into human behavior that reveal how much Ms. Hill is able to help us relate to her characters as real people. For example, I thought that Pastor Ted’s words during the little funeral service in the parlor were profound and authentic and touched my heart deeply. Then, too, Father Raymond’s words to Amy regarding the mysterious face in the mirror made me smile in recognition.

As I mentioned above, I did have serious problems with Maria. I found Amy to be naive and smug and condescending in reference to sexual urges and her mother's attempts to prevent Amy from following in her footsteps. Teenage motherhood admittedly isn't the focus of the narrative, but the consequences of Amy's one sexual encounter can be found in many romances and I was disappointed that this was added into the book and then skimmed over. Even so, because the narrative focuses on other aspects of Amy and Maria's coming of age with such precision this is a minor issue.

I am so glad I finishedThe Queen of Sleepy Eye. Ms. Hill holds a mirror up to the reader and sometimes we aren’t always comfortable with what we see. Other times the images warm your heart and hold out hope and love. Ms. Hill has written a perceptive and touching book that may just help readers think twice.

Image found on B & H Publishing

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